Coronavirus News Asia

China comes to the Covid-19 rescue in Laos

CHIANG MAI – The Beijing-backed and financed China-Lao high-speed railway’s official inauguration was planned for December 2021, symbolically opening coincident with the 46th anniversary of the founding of communist rule in Laos.

But the Covid-19 crisis has caused delays in the 414-kilometer railway’s construction, with progress on the link from the northern Lao border town of Boten down to the capital Vientiane now frozen amid the viral panic.

The mega-project is not only an expression of the friendship that China has established in recent years with its impoverished southern neighbor. It also aims to serve as a connective gateway linking southern China with Thailand and the rest of mainland Southeast Asia with plans to extend as far south as Singapore.

In that context, the railroad is of utmost strategic importance. China is not likely to give up its grand plans and visions because of the Covid-19 crisis.

Rather, Beijing will likely seek to leverage the crisis to double down on its Southeast Asian ventures, including in Laos, which are vital to expanding exports and securing access to needed agricultural and mineral resources.

On the Chinese side of the border, the 600-kilometer stretch of the railroad, which runs from Yunnan’s provincial capital of Kunming to the Lao northern border, has been completed, an indication of the special emphasis Beijing has put on the project.

The importance China places on its relations with Laos as a beachhead into the wider Southeast Asian region has been apparent in its response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Source: Twitter

In the latest example of Beijing’s so-called “face mask diplomacy”, Chinese authorities last month delivered more than 2,000 coronavirus test kits, while a small group of a dozen Chinese medical experts arrived in the country in early April to help fight the virus.

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